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Base rules, benefits for civilians

Published: 01:57PM November 3rd, 2011


Civilian contractor Ryan Hardy, an employee of Mantech, peddles an exercise bike at McVeigh Gym Oct. 31, 2011 on JBLM.

Ever wonder what benefits exist for federally employed civilians and contractors?

Just about everything at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is available for active duty, Reserve and National Guard servicemembers, their spouses and retirees.

But what about those Department of Defense civilians or contractors who haven’t served or didn’t retire? Federal civilians and contractors may be surprised to learn that many of the same benefits available to military personnel and their Families are available to them as well. Here’s a short list of just a few of the base amenities that exist for Army and Air Force civilians and contractors.


Federal civilians (both General Schedule and Non-Appropriated Fund) have the same rights to all Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities and businesses as servicemembers do. This means they can use Child and Youth School Services, Army Community Service programs like getting relocation help or participating in the Resilience Academy.

Recreation amenities not related to CYSS and ACS are open to both federal civilians and contractors who possess government-issued ID cards. These facilities include the bowling centers, fitness centers and Leisure and Travel Services to name a few. For more information, visit


DOD civilians, contractors and their families have access to the JBLM libraries. Movies and video games can be checked out for up to a week, and books for three weeks. There are no charges for overdue books. The libraries offer free Internet, Wi-Fi, long-distance fax service and scanners. Up to four free passes are available for checkout to go to the Tacoma Art Museum or Tacoma Children’s Museum.

Sports and fitness

Civilians and contractors can play intramural sports at JBLM. Several different sports leagues are available for sign up. Anyone is eligible to participate in the base’s many running races held throughout the year, including the upcoming Turkey Trot race Nov. 19. Also, anyone with a government-issued ID card can start their workout program right by visiting one of the eight fitness centers at JBLM.

Golf enthusiasts should check out Eagle’s Pride Golf Course on Lewis, open to both groups. McChord’s Whispering Firs is only playable by federal employees, though. Anyone can purchase essential golfing items at Eagle’s Pride like shoes, cleats or socks, but staff only sell pro shop merchandise like golf clubs and carts to military personnel.


The assumption for everyone on base is that only the military gets housing. That’s sort-of true. JBLM housing regulations stipulate that DOD civilians or contractors aren’t eligible for on-base housing. There is an exception to this policy, though. Directorate of Public Works’ Residential Communities Division Chief Greta Powell said that if the housing occupancy dropped below 95 percent for more than 90 days, housing officials could allow federal civilians the opportunity to live on the installation. “This has never happened and unlikely to happen because of the deficit of housing,” Powell said.

In a 2009 housing analysis, nearly 2,000 active-duty Families were on a JBLM housing waiting list. Currently, there are about 4,100 homes available. By 2016, Powell said that number will increase to 5,000 homes. “Barring any major troop movements (away from JBLM) or carrying a deficit of Family housing for an extended period of time, we’ll never fall below 95 percent in any kind of sustainable way,” Powell said.

Schools and childcare centers

Waivers are available for civilians and contractors to use on-base schools and childcare centers. Similar to housing, schools or childcare centers not at full capacity can take non-military personnel through a first-come, first-serve waiver system. School Liaison Office Director of Youth Education Support Services Norma Melo said that parents with a government-issued ID card can register at base educational institutions that aren’t full.

“Most of our off-post families must have childcare before and after school due to work schedules and ‘school-out’ days, so my office negotiates those waivers,” Melo said. For more information, call the School Liaison Office at 967-7195.


The Army Lewis-McChord Exchanges’ food, entertainment and retail operations located outside the main store are accessible for everyone. That’s where most people assume their ability to shop ends, but guess what? Civilians are authorized to purchase single-serve consumables like snacks and soda from “Snack Avenues” at any installation Express (formerly known as the Shoppette).

“Fruit, candy bars, soft drinks and even chicken pot pies can be picked up by just about anyone with business on the installation,” said the Exchange’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Chief Master Sgt. Jeffry Helm. Other items include care and personal hygiene items. Only military ID card holders, who include retirees and Family members, are allowed to purchase alcohol and tobacco, said JBLM AAFES General Manager Patrick Mcghee. Anyone who believes they may qualify for Exchange benefits may go to for more information.


The Commissary is typically off-limits to non-retired federal civilians and contractors. Commissary Director Gene Lantz said that installation or garrison commanders could make exceptions for contractors to receive Commissary privileges if it’s in the contract.

Madigan Healthcare System

Only active-duty and retired servicemembers and their Families are authorized health care at Madigan Healthcare System. The general population also can’t get a flu shot at the hospital, but some Madigan employees can. Madigan spokeswoman Carrie Bernard said that civilians injured on the job could go to the Madigan Emergency Department if the injury required emergent medical attention.

Provost Marshal

Contractors and DOD civilians are required to abide by the same driving restrictions as servicemembers and are therefore liable to be pulled over, issued tickets or driving revocation letters and even searched by the JBLM police. Police can issue civilians driving citations, detain them for drunken driving while on the installation and issue mandatory court appearance notices, said JBLM Provost Marshal Operations Officer Capt. Angela Zecca. Civilians are not exempt from random gate inspections, and must follow gate security guards’ directions to make the inspection happen in a timely manner.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Soldier or civilian, they will get searched,” Zecca said.

For more information on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, visit the base website at